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Climbing The Port du Bales


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A Sunny Day In Hell:

The high mountains. My 3rd day. Jon’s 1st. The sun is shining and our ‘good’ friend Nick (below) decides a 60 mile route over the Col du Portillion the Col du Mente and the Col des Ares is a good idea to ‘warm’ up the legs before we attempt climbing the Port du Bales….

Port du Bales 2

After a bit of easy spinning in the valley roads, we found the start of the Port du Bales and stopped to fill up our the bottles in the lovely village of Mauléon Barousse at the bottom of this HC monster. Fate smiled on Nick at this point when a bee stung him on his tongue which softened our attitudes towards him after the 60 miles already cycled on a very warm day in June.

Starting from Mauléon Barousse in the Midi-Pyrenees, the Port de Bales ascent is around 19km in distance and averages 6%. The total elevation is around 3,800ft and we would top out at around 1800m. The Tour was coming through a few weeks later so we decided not make them look bad and settled into nice easy pace since the first section is relatively easy.

The heat really makes a difference when you’re down in the valley and it was my first experience with the ‘false flats’ of the mountain regions. You end up using one bottle to drink from and the other to periodically pour down the back of your neck. Nick was lost in a world of bee-sting depression and couldnt really talk much so he just rode along quietly.

This climb winds its way up a tree lined valley and the gradient changes pretty often so its difficult to maintain a rhythm. There were also workmen preparing the road for the Tour which was coming through in July so it was pretty rough in places. The first 9km is pretty tame but once you cross over a small bridge then the pain / fun begins with the gradient never really dropping below 8-9%. Nick was in a world of pain somewhere behind at this point and Jon had done his best Chris Froome impression and shot away so I didnt see either of them for the last 50 mins of the climb. In fact, I only saw one other cyclist for the entire climb. This is one of the lesser known climbs in the region and it adds to the experience I think.

The ascent from the Mauléon Barousse side isnt as pretty as the one coming up from Bagnères-de-Luchon and for the most part, you wind your way up a steep, tree lined valley. Its considered the tougher side and the one used by the Pro’s (and us)

Things went pretty dark for a while and the legs almost stopped turning over. For the first time I can remember, I had to stop and pull over in order to get some grub down me due to the gradient. It had already been over an hour of climbing so thank good for OTE! I had 1 Anytime Bar left so gobbled it down and set off again. (Shameless plug here – sign up for the All Things Ride newsletter and we will get you a 20% discount code for these beauties!)

You turn a corner and all the previous 16km of pain start to become worthwhile as the views opens up. The scenery towards the top is fantastic, with great views of Mont Né and across to the Ariège Pyrenees. I spotted a tiny lone figure dancing up the final section across the in the distance (which turned out to be Jon who finished 10 mins ahead) and put my head down for the final 3km.

On all these long climbs, its great seeing the final 2km to go signpost. I can always grind that out so the final section went quite quickly. There was no repeat of the infamous ‘chaingate’ incident between Contador & Schleck since Nick was only just emerging from the forest behind me. I rounded the final bend with Jon and the sheep cheering us on and collapsed. Port du Bales: Done. 1 hr 40 mins in the saddle.

ATR Port du Bales

From the top, its a technical first section of the descent before a really enjoyable blast back down onto the bottom of the Peyresourde and then back into Bagnères-de-Luchon for a well earned beer.

All these climbs are easily accessible from Bagneres du Luchon. Contact us today to join one of our Pyrenees Tours

For the Port du Bales segment we rode, click here